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Deception and Incentives. How Dishonesty Undermines Effort Provision

  • Florian Ederer
  • Ernst Fehr

In this paper we show that subtle forms of deceit undermine the effectiveness of incentives. We design an experiment in which the principal has an interest in underreporting the true performance difference between the agents in a dynamic tournament. According to the standard approach, rational agents should completely disregard the performance feedback of self-interested principals and choose their effort level as if they had not been given any information. However, despite substantial underreporting many principals seem to exhibit lying aversion which renders their feedback informative. Therefore, the agents respond to the feedback but discount it strongly by reducing their effort relative to fully truthful performance feedback. Moreover, previous experiences of being deceived exacerbate the problem and eventually reduce average effort even below the level that prevails in the absence of any feedback. Thus, both no feedback and truthful feedback are better for incentives than biased feedback.

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Paper provided by Institute for Empirical Research in Economics - University of Zurich in its series IEW - Working Papers with number 341.

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Date of creation: Nov 2007
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Handle: RePEc:zur:iewwpx:341
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  1. Vincent P. Crawford, 2003. "Lying for Strategic Advantage: Rational and Boundedly Rational Misrepresentation of Intentions," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 93(1), pages 133-149, March.
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  8. Christine Harbring & Bernd Irlenbusch & Matthias Kräkel & Reinhard Selten, 2004. "Sabotage in Asymmetric Contests – An Experimental Analysis," Bonn Econ Discussion Papers bgse12_2004, University of Bonn, Germany.
  9. Edward P. Lazear & Sherwin Rosen, 1979. "Rank-Order Tournaments as Optimum Labor Contracts," NBER Working Papers 0401, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  10. Bull, Clive & Schotter, Andrew & Weigelt, Keith, 1985. "Tournaments and Piece Rates: An Experimental Study," Working Papers 85-21, C.V. Starr Center for Applied Economics, New York University.
  11. Masaki Aoyagi, 2003. "Information Feedback in a Dynamic Tournament," ISER Discussion Paper 0580, Institute of Social and Economic Research, Osaka University.
  12. Urs Fischbacher, 2007. "z-Tree: Zurich toolbox for ready-made economic experiments," Experimental Economics, Springer;Economic Science Association, vol. 10(2), pages 171-178, June.
  13. Joseph Tao-yi Wang & Michael Spezio & Colin F. Camerer, 2006. "Pinocchio's Pupil: Using Eyetracking and Pupil Dilation to Understand Truth-telling and Deception in Games," Levine's Bibliography 321307000000000042, UCLA Department of Economics.
  14. John W. Dickhaut & Kevin A. McCabe & Arijit Mukherji, 1995. "An experimental study of strategicinformation transmission," Economic Theory, Springer;Society for the Advancement of Economic Theory (SAET), vol. 6(3), pages 389-403.
  15. Andrew Schotter & Keith Weigelt, 1992. "Asymmetric Tournaments, Equal Opportunity Laws, and Affirmative Action: Some Experimental Results," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 107(2), pages 511-539.
  16. Florian Ederer, 2010. "Feedback and Motivation in Dynamic Tournaments," Journal of Economics & Management Strategy, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 19(3), pages 733-769, 09.
  17. Nina Mazar & Dan Ariely, 2006. "Dishonesty in everyday life and its policy implications," Working Papers 06-3, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.
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